EIU saxophone students have achieved a variety of accomplishments. They have excelled as educators and performers.
Josh Marcus is a saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist. He studied saxophone with Dr. Fagaly at Eastern Illinois University, graduating in 2010. He went on to pursue his Master’s Degree at William Paterson University, and maintained a career performing in and around New York City. Josh has performed and studied with such artists as Mulgrew Miller, Rich Perry, Vincent Herring, Wayne Bergeron, Peter Erskine, Steve Laspina, and many others. Josh currently resides in Austin, TX. He plays keys on tour with Cigarettes After Sex. For more on Josh, visit joshmarcusmusic.com
“My time working with Dr. Fagaly at Eastern Illinois University was truly a cornerstone of my education. My playing and concept improved dramatically in all areas while working with him. His approach to the saxophone and tone production and focus on techniques to improve and control tone and sound gave me a set of invaluable tools that I utilize every single day. Dr. Fagaly is a fantastic player as well- he is at home whether playing jazz, classical, rock, funk, or any other style. I gained so much not only from his ability to teach within any of these styles, but also his skills in playing them all effectively. His knowledge of big band music is also invaluable. His extensive stylistic knowledge and familiarity with a huge variety of material comes through every time he is in front of the jazz ensemble.”
Eric Combs is the middle school band director in Olney, Illinois, and the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year. Eric has been teaching beginner level bands for 15 years. He developed his own system of individualized, spiraling instruction for his 140 students, and quickly started getting perfect ratings at state contests on grade level 4 pieces with his second and third year students.
Because of the band’s success, and because the school was able to provide free instruments to as many students as requested them (70 one year), the band won the NAAM Foundation’s national “Best Communities For Music Education” award five times. The program has been recognized twice by the US House of Representatives.
Mr. Combs went on to write three books about music education, and started the Facebook blogs “Thoughts From a Beginning Band Director,” and “Sound Beginnings Beginner Band Series.” He also developed the free website www.banddirectorsshare.com which had over 16,000 visits from 41 countries in its first 10 months. Other groups that Mr. Combs developed are the “Illinois Band Director Job Openings” and “Southern Illinois Band Director” Facebook groups.
All of Mr. Combs’ materials (books, flashcards, videos, sites, etc.) are completely free. With donations to his sites, Mr. Combs was able to hire a full time instrumental music instructor at a large orphanage in Honduras.
Mr. Combs is the winner of a WTHI TV10 Golden Apple Award, and the “Good Neighbor” educator award from WSIU (National Public Radio).
“I count my time at EIU as a saxophone student with Dr. Fagaly among my fondest memories. His weekly private lessons with me were extremely beneficial. Playing in his top Jazz Ensemble was the most fun I have ever had as a musician, and I still miss it to this day, 15 years later. I loved my time as an undergrad at EIU that I returned for my masters degree. Dr. Fagaly and EIU have helped to shape me into the State Teacher of the Year that I am today.”
Charity Astrouski earned bachelor’s degrees in music education and music performance from Eastern Illinois University in Spring 2009. Since Fall 2015, she has served as instrumental music director for Shelbyville Public Schools, where she was named the district’s first ever PTO teacher of the year. Since arriving, Charity has more than doubled the district’s instrumental music program and has developed a highly sought-after ukulele ensemble. She has also been invited to present a clinic to teachers in east central Illinois and has been selected to present a demonstrative clinic with her ukulele club at the 2020 ILMEA All-State Conference in Peoria. Before coming to Shelbyville, Charity worked as a substitute teacher in several Madison, Wisconsin area school districts for one year after marrying her husband. Before that, she was the instrumental music director in Bement, Illinois for five years after graduating from EIU. Charity continues her relationship with EIU by working as an assistant dean for Eastern Music Camps, where she also taught saxophone master classes. While studying at Eastern, Charity performed in a number of ensembles (Wind Symphony, Concert Band, Jazz Lab Band, Jazz Ensemble, Orchestra, Panther Marching Band, Choir, and Saxophone Quartets). She also won 3rd place at the Peck Music Competition.
Charity owes her career to her studies with Dr. Sam Fagaly. Dr. Fagaly taught her how to practice effectively, how to work toward a goal, and how to succeed as a musician and a professional. As a teacher, Charity works to share those same lessons with her students and to apply them in her ensembles and beyond. Charity remembers Dr. Fagaly’s saxophone studio as a positive, supportive, and collegial group, and many of the friendships she made there continue today. Charity continues to have a strong relationship with Dr. Fagaly and has benefited from his support in the years since graduating from EIU.
~ Charity Astrouski
Born in Las Vegas, NV and raised in Belleville, IL, Willie Morris is a New York City based saxophonist, composer, and educator. Willie graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2019 with both a Music Education and Jazz Studies degree. While at EIU, he was fortunate to study with Sam Fagaly, Paul Johnston, Scott Hesse, Sam Winternheimer, Alicia Neal, Jamie Ryan, Rebecca Johnson, and Magie Smith among others. During this time, Willie was also fortunate to perform across the Midwest in many cities including St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Milwaukee. He also taught in multiple capacities such as private lessons, clinics/masterclasses, and even directing young student jazz bands. Since completing his studies at EIU, Willie has moved to New York City where he is performing regularly as both a leader and sideman, teaching beginning band at Manhattan’s Riverside School for Makers and Artists (P.S. 191), and attending The Juilliard School where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies while also teaching at the Music Advancement Program, which serves as one of Juilliard’s weekend conservatories for gifted middle and high school musicians from New York and New Jersey.
“My studies at Eastern Illinois University afforded me a multitude of resources in which I was able to better every aspect of my skills as a musician, professional, and humanitarian. Being a member of the saxophone studio and studying with Dr. Sam Fagaly is one of my fondest memories of the time I spent at Eastern Illinois University. Sam is a rarity in the way he balances what I like to call the ‘sweets versus the veggies,’ meaning he does a fantastic job of tailoring your lessons to who you want to be as a musician and artist while also providing you with the information that is necessary to develop technique, creativity, and a deep understanding of music. While studying with Sam, I also learned a great deal about the professionalism and work ethic necessary to find and keep work as a musician, educator, and just about any other occupation one can think of. This came through watching him perform, listening to him speak publicly, and heeding his advice that has proven so effective since. Dr. Sam Fagaly, along with all the wonderful faculty at EIU, greatly opened my mind in many way and, thus, has helped me unlock my potential and continue down the path that I am currently on. I continue to carry their teachings with me and still find myself learning from them each day.”
Ms. Christina Farley graduated from Eastern Illinois University in May 2017, obtaining a Bachelor of Music, Teacher Licensure with an emphasis in Instrumental Music. She plans to graduate from EIU with a Master of Arts in Music, concentration in Music Education the Spring of 2022. Currently, she serves as the Director of Bands for Paris Unit School District No. 95 in Paris, IL. She teaches at Mayo Middle and Carolyn-Wenz Elementary Schools; the department offers Beginning Jazz Band, Jazz Ensemble, 5th Grade Beginning Band, 6th Grade Concert Band, 7/8th Grade Concert Band, Pep Band, and Parade Band. Under Ms. Farley’s direction, the program has experienced an increase in recruitment numbers and retention rates. She strongly believes in the importance of cultivating a sense of family within the ensemble, building, and community. Farley strives to enhance student learning and the quality of her own teaching by fostering relationships between her program and the surrounding music education programs.
“I feel extremely fortunate and forever grateful to have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the great music educators that Eastern has to offer. Their dedication to student success is echoed throughout the department, and continues to resonate with graduates as they move through their careers. Sam Fagaly is a perfect example of the top-notch educators EIU has to offer. He works hard to insure each of his students feel welcome and comfortable, all while helping them to grow as performers and educators. I worked with Sam throughout the entirety of my undergraduate degree and his teaching has helped to shape me into the educator and musician that I am today. I am proud to call him a mentor, colleague, and friend.”
~ Christina Farley